By Randy Scholfield
Sometimes, you get a victory that brings home what it is we’re doing at TU, and that broadens your sense of what’s possible.
The Fraser River in Colorado just got a new lease on life—and all of you who are part of Team TU made it happen.
This is one to celebrate.
It took a decade of hard work, persistence, and tough, complicated negotiations, but Trout Unlimited staff dug in for the long haul and—this week—announced a major deal with Denver Water and Grand County to secure a package of protections for the Fraser, a beautiful river beloved by generations of fly-fishermen and Coloradans.
This is a big, big win for Trout Unlimited and for river conservation in the West. The Fraser is an outstanding wild trout river that has been hammered by years of diversions. Currently, Denver Water is taking about 60 percent of the natural flows of the Fraser, a key tributary of the Upper Colorado. They’ve proposed to take another 15 percent of the river through an expansion of their Moffat Tunnel diversion.
That would put the Fraser and its trout fishery on life support, unless the river received additional protections and mitigation to offset the potential impacts.
At times, the situation looked bleak. Denver Water and TU seemed far apart. But we stayed the course. Our members and supporters turned out for regulatory hearings and for public rallies in Denver. We laid the groundwork with science-based reports that proved the fishery needed more flows and restored habitat. We kept at the table with Denver Water, talking.
This victory is a great example of “One TU” teamwork—national staff, state council and grassroots working together. Mely Whiting of TU’s Colorado Water Project dogged this project for years, building critical partnerships, attending countless meetings, crunching mind-numbing technical data, and negotiating the shoals of the federal permitting process. Colorado Trout Unlimited council and staff, led by executive director David Nickum, helped at every step with negotiations and public education. Another TU strength—its local members—came through big time. Kirk Klancke, president of TU’s Colorado River Headwaters Chapter, spoke eloquently about the Fraser at every opportunity and spearheaded chapter-led restoration projects. (His passionate advocacy was the subject of a recent National Geographic profile online.) Other members showed up at key public meetings, at rallies to support the river, and submitted literally thousands of public comment letters to the federal agencies responsible for permitting the Moffat project.
Through these efforts, TU and its partners have secured a long-term agreement that, if adopted into the federal permit, holds the promise of a healthy Fraser River far into the future. Read the release for more details.
Of course, we didn’t do it alone. Other conservation allies, local businesses and landowners including Devils Thumb Ranch, and the staff and elected officials of Grand County were incredible partners in achieving this victory – and will continue to be trusted partners as we tackle the long-term collaborative effort of protecting and restoring the Fraser basin.
This is how TU gets things done - bringing a powerful grassroots voice to the cause, and working collaboratively to find pragmatic solutions. And those efforts let us achieve our ultimate goal—saving our home waters and best places,.
Randy Scholfield is director of communications for TU’s Western Water Project.